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Has Potter been a bike-friendly Mayor?

Posted by on May 2nd, 2007 at 12:41 pm

from archives; Tom Potter

Potter at a Walk and Bike
to School event last year.
File photo: 10/4/06

When Portland Mayor Tom Potter decided to cut funding for the Bicycle Master Plan, his office received over 300 calls and emails, the third highest response of any issue during his tenure

Potter recently told KGW-TV that the community’s reaction was “dissappointing,” because, “he feels he has been a big supporter of the cycling community.”

I thought about that quote and began to wonder just how bike-friendly he has been since taking office in 2004.

A Promising Candidate
Before he was elected, Potter was positioned as a bike-friendly candidate and received an endorsement from political action committee Bike Walk Vote. They said,

“We contributed to the winning campaign of Portland mayor-elect Tom Potter, who wants to work closely with the cycling and walking community to improve Portland. Potter promises to use the mayor’s office…to find increased funding for our transportation needs. A rider of a recumbent bike, Potter will bring a history of working with communities and an open mind to the office.”

Three Bridges dedication ceremony

Potter walked proudly with trail advocates
at the Three Bridges project dedication.
File photo: 10/19/06

First Order of Business: Critical Mass
Soon after he was elected, coming off a major crackdown of Critical Mass by his predecessor Vera Katz, Potter kept up the bike-friendly momentum by riding his recumbent in the February edition of the ride. Over 200 riders showed up and many cyclists rejoiced at the calm created by his presence. Here’s a report from that ride,

“Without the constant threat of harassment, the ride was a lot more fun than it’s been in a long time. Throughout the ride, whoops, yells, cheers, and choruses of bike bells rang out…the shorter leash that the new Mayor keeps them on made this ride hundreds of times more pleasant than it was under Katz.”

His attendance at that ride continues to bring him good vibes. Not a few weeks can go by without me hearing someone bring it up in a meeting.

Unfortunately, the month following Potter’s attendance was marked by heavy ticketing and a strong police presence which led to renewed ill will.

In the meantime, Potter green-lighted monthly meetings between police and the community to discuss Critical Mass and give riders an opportunity to speak directly with the Traffic Division Commander and Lieutenant.

The Mayor also requested a Critical Mass White Paper to assess where things stood. Last I heard, it was being drafted by bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg (a long-time veteran of the ride) and Commissioner Adams’ policy analyst Roland Chlapowski.

Tour de Fat '06

An advocate for community policing, Potter has allowed the Bureau to dramatically scale back their presence at Critical Mass and at the request of the community, he has agreed to use more bicycle-mounted officers.

During Potter’s tenture, the Police have patrolled Critical Mass with strict enforcement of all traffic laws. This, combined with their unflinching position to not allow “corking”, has caused the ride to lose its allure, and as a result, many people have stopped showing up.

Critical Mass has remained relatively quiet since Potter took office. Last month, after several months of very low turnout, Portland’s Critical Mass reached its nadir. Just 5 riders showed up. They were outnumbered by cops, two to one.

Law Enforcement Practices Ruffle Feathers
Potter is a former Police Chief and as Mayor, he is in charge of the Police Bureau. During his tenure, the enforcement of bicycle-related laws and the Bureau’s relationship with the bike community has ebbed and flowed.

officer barnum

Cops and cyclists have spent
too many days in court under
Potter’s tenure.
File photo: 7/27/06

It’s not clear just how involved Potter is with the day-to-day policies of the Traffic Division (they write over 80% of bicycle tickets), but their enforcement practices remain a touchy issue.

This is in part because of controversial enforcement of fixed-gear bicycles, confusion of some officers about bicycle laws that have resulted in many court cases, and a repeated use of unannounced enforcement actions, like the recent one at Ladds Circle.

Despite concerns over these enforcement actions (or “stings” depending on which side of the ticket you’re on), the Mayor supports the conduct of his officers.

Due to concern over this issue, the BTA met with reps from Potter’s office two weeks ago. I wasn’t there, but I heard that Potter’s staff was amenable and the BTA felt like their points were heard. (In a nutshell, Evan Manvel of the BTA thinks all enforcement actions should be done only at intersections with high crash rates, the Police Bureau agrees, but reserves the right to do them solely in response to complaints.)

And Then Came the Budget
Just a few days after meeting with the BTA to discuss enforcement, we learned that Mayor Potter decided to cut funding for the Bicycle Master Plan Update process. I’ve covered the issue and the fallout extensively already, so I won’t re-hash the whole story.

Mayor Potter insists that his decision on the Bike Master Plan is consistent with his priorities and that due to tight budgets, he would rather focus on safety and maintenance of existing facilities.

But the Mayor’s proposed budget wasn’t all bad news. He did fund some bicycle safety improvements (albeit for 50% less than what was requested) and he chose to fully fund the Safe Routes to School Program to the tune of $250,000.

Potter as a Champion of Bike Issues/Projects
I cover the bike scene closely, and I’ve only seen Mayor Potter at a few events. He helped cut the ribbon on the Three Bridges dedication event and he showed up to talk with kids and address the crowd at a Walk and Bike to School Day event in southeast Portland last October.

I’m also not aware of any bike-friendly appointees or staffers that have made bikes a priority, or of any bike-specific projects or initiatives he has gotten behind (please fill me in if I’m overlooking something).

Conclusion
Before this recent budget fiasco, I have to admit, I did not follow Portland politics (outside of Commissioner Adams’ office) very closely. That being said, my feelings on Potter have been neutral. I don’t see him as a true champion of bicycles, but he’s definitely not anti-bike either (especially compared to former Mayor Katz). Unfortunately, given his decision to dig his heels into not funding the Bicycle Master Plan — which is a relatively low-cost, yet very high value expenditure — and my mixed feelings about the bicycle enforcement issue, it’s hard to think of him as being bike-friendly.

Perhaps, as a result of his recent introduction to the sensible and unified voice of the bike community, we will see Mayor Potter doing more to rally the city behind bikes in the future.


I’d love to know what you think. Can you add experiences, insights, or opinions as to whether or not you feel Potter has been a bike-friendly Mayor?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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BURR
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BURR

Regardless of who’s mayor, you can be sure the Portland Business Alliance will be in their office lobbying for motorized travel and against human powered vehicles. The PBA is a powerful local business lobby and they had Vera’s ear; I’m pretty sure they now have Potter’s ear, as well.

Attornatus_Oregonensis
Guest
Attornatus_Oregonensis

Bike Walk Vote said: “Potter promises to use the mayor’s office…to find increased funding for our transportation needs.”

Broken promises.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

And might I add in here that Potter supports 26-91 which will further strengthen the Mayor’s powers.

At this point it sure seems like a good thing that we can go to commisioners when the Mayor seems to be going his own way?

Bud Clark is against 26-91. And he, in my mind, was the ultimate Mayor of Portland.

Whoop! Whoop!

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I agree that Bud Clark is (and was) the man.

Long Live Bud Clark!!!

I would like to name him King Of Portland actually. (By the way, one morning in the late 80’s, behind Alber’s Mill, we almost had a two bicycle wreck, I took myself out into the wall so as not to smash into him. I felt I was not allowed to knock the Mayor into the river)

Mayor Potter’s platform was Pro bike, and Pro skateboard, giving him the vote of the younger crowd, which surely gave him the win..

And now, he is not pro bike at all, and we almost have completion of one, and only one skatepark. (I do not count Pier Park, as the real financier’s of that was Dreamland, with their matching funds). (Of which barely a word was mentioned)

Mayor Potter is becoming the new Vera, the mayor who does virtually nothing.

Perhaps a nice statue of Potter next to Vera? Replace her head with the head of an Alligator, and his with the head of a Snake? Or maybe he only warrants the head of a Kitten……

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

By the way, I do applaud the efforts of Vera and, whether he meant to or not, Mayor Potter, in largely reducing the number of rider’s attending Critical Mass…….

Martha R
Guest
Martha R

The mayor went on one Critical Mass ride a while ago and has attended a few ribbon-cutting ceremonies for bike infrastructure. How does that make him “big supporter” of the cycling community?

I’ve been annoyed by the police bureau’s traffic enforcement policies for a while now, and the Ladd’s Addition sting was the last straw; I wrote a letter to the Mayor with a list of complaints about the police. My point was that traffic enforcement should result in greater safety for all roadway users, and that that goal should be the guiding principle for the police. I ended the letter by stating that if Portland wants to go Platinum, the police have to get on board (I cc’d Sam Adams).

The Mayor’s response (actually written by a staffer) was a tepid defense of the status quo: the police really do like bicyclists and do a fine job of traffic enforcement, and I just don’t understand how things really work, blah blah blah.

The letter didn’t actually cite any specific examples to support his claim. No, wait, there was one. I complained that the police don’t handle bike/car crashes well, because (among other specific issues I cited) when I was hit by a car (and not injured enough to need medical treatment), I tried to report the incident to the police but they never returned my calls. The response letter said something like, “As you know, cyclists have the right to report non-injury accidents and the police will fill out a report (although I realize that you didn’t have that opportunity)…” So he pretty much told me that I was wrong for complaining about the police’s non-response since the police do offer the service of recording incidents (even though they don’t actually respond).

A mayor who is truly supportive of cyclists would have 1)apologized for the lameness in the police department over not returning calls; 2)asked for more information about my particular case so that he could figure out what went wrong (systemic problem or single glitch?); 3)pursued the issue and offered a chance for me to actually report the incident; and 4)made an action plan for fixing the problem…and then acted on it. That’s what an effective leader would do. Potter didn’t do it.

He’s a “bike supporter” only when it’s politically convenient. Except for now, but it’s too late to fix his reputation.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I have to agree that the PPB response to non injury bike on car accidents that are caused by the driver of the car is abysmal. I tried for 3 days to report an incident where a driver intentionally caused a collision with me before getting out of his car to threaten me. No officer responded to the scene although the dispatcher said one would, it was nearly impossible to get my calls returned, and everytime I did I was told I had the wrong department and given the run around. Portland needs an officer specifically assigned to responding to bike crashes who will actually write and file reports when people do call them in or we will never have accurate accident counts.

Bjorn

Caleb
Guest

Great run-down Jonathon! I hope everyone realizes how much effort it takes to paint a balanced and cohesive picture of an issue like this. We’re amazingly lucky to have someone of your caliber paying attention for those of us who don’t pay as much attention as they should (myself included). I wish that all news sources were as careful in their analysis as you have been here.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Not only are the PoPo bike/car crash responses sorely inadequate, but as evidenced by the responses to Jonathan’s story on the bike crash map a couple of weeks ago, the cops aren’t even recording and/or reporting who knows how many of the crashes that happen.

There were a number of posters, myself included, who could not find our crashes on the map, even though they were reported during the time covered by the map.

It is interesting that we have created a situation where the police are able to tailor their own enforcement actions/inactions, “responding” to the data that they themselves are able to manipulate.

“Hmm, want to justify coming down harder on bikes? We’ll just edit out the data when cars are the at-fault party. Presto chango! It’s the bikes not the cars.”

I have a feeling that if all bike/car crashes were reported and entered into the system, we would be seeing a much different picture than the police have created for us.

Tom Potter, your days are numbered.

No on 26-91.

Lenny Anderson
Guest

Under Mayor Katz…who has never owned a car…we got the Eastbank Esplanade and Interstate MAX (with bike lanes most of the way), and almost major league baseball (what does that have to do with bikes?), among other things. I miss her.
Tom who? a disappointment.

Norman
Guest
Norman

Dabby-
We get it. You don’t like CM. Do you have to troll every thread about it? I suggest that if you don’t like CM or other forms of civil disobedience stay home like a good citizen. As you pointed out in another thread, it has never done any one any good, right?

peejay
Guest
peejay

Officer Kroger (sp?) in a phone call with me pulled out the statistic that half of all reported bike/car crashes are caused by bikes. I wonder if that number would change if you added in all the reports that cyclist initiated that never got filed. I bet that every time there’s property damage to a car that’s caused by a bike, it’s reported and followed through.

Jonathan Maus/BikePortland
Guest

re: bike crash reporting. I have some great information on this I will post as a follow-up to my story a few weeks ago with Greg Raisman. stay tuned.

For now, it’d be great to hear if anyone has a comment about the Mayor specifically.

thanks.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Hey Lenny, I’ll give Vera credit for NOT bringing Major League Baseball to Portland. They can stay wherever they are thankyouverymuch.

And VK did also bring us the most horrific Police Chief Mark “get used to it” Kroeker.

VK’s mayorship was a mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. Hardly a monster, but a Bud Clark she ain’t.

driveslow
Guest
driveslow

Nice article Jonathan – I think the time has come to create a City of Portland Bicycle Scorecard similar to the League of Conservation Voters National Environmental Scorecard. Annually, bikeportland.org could identify the key City Council bicycle related votes and create a ranking for each council member – I recommend that the first vote on the scorecard is the upcoming vote on the budget amendment to add back funding for the Bicycle Master Plan….

Disco D
Guest
Disco D

I’m somewhat surprised that so many of you guys think the lack of police response to bike issues is some sort of a conspiracy. Overall I have found they don’t respond to much of anything. If they are not going to respond to house robberies or muggings (you get a form in the mail to fill out) then why would you be surprised they aren’t going to rush over for a car hitting a bike?

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

As a slight aside regarding crit. mass, I was in Ladd’s for the communified ride last Friday. I very nice police officer in a cruiser asked me and another biker if where the ‘alternative mass’ was being held. I purposefully told her I only know the one downtown, and the other person didn’t know anything about the ride. Fortunately the cruiser was too early and so gave up before people started showing up. We had a great ride and some wonderful connections were made. With the limited resources of PoPo, it’s absurd to spend resources on every bike ride that occurs on Friday. This is what Potter needs to understand.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

“We get it. You don’t like CM. Do you have to troll every thread about it? I suggest that if you don’t like CM or other forms of civil disobedience stay home like a good citizen. As you pointed out in another thread, it has never done any one any good, right?”

Norman,

Considering there has been a lot of attention on this site recently, in regards to Critical Mass, and also the fact that half of the above article is in reference to the Mayor’s handling of critical Mass events, I would say that it is highly relevant that I bring it up again.

And I promise to stop bringing it up the minute you people stop showing up for it…..

Somebody needs to be a voice against the travesty that Critical Ass is……

I pick me…

Joe
Guest
Joe

I realize there are a lot of competing interests for the city’s surplus funds this year. Of course I’m biased being a regular cyclist, a transportation planner, and a reader of this blog, but I think the BMP is huge for this city in so many ways – transportation, quality of life, economy, environment. The mayor’s inability to realize the significance of the BMP and what it means to the future of Portland in all these different areas speaks to his disconnect with the bike community in Portland and the progress that was borne from the last BMP, now largely out-of-date.

On a side note… Think about it, if 26-91 passes as the mayor hopes it will, we could possibly be without an allies in the future like Sam Adams who has gained intimate knowledge of the bike community through his management of the Office of Transportation. Instead, we’d have an all-powerful mayor who barely knows what’s going on in the few bureaus he manages now because he’s more interested in managing his next political campaign, and we’d have a bunch of commissioners totally removed from the daily operation of the Office of Transportation. How is that more accessible?

JJ
Guest
JJ

“I pick me…”

You have to understand that anyone who refers to himself as “one of the most underappreciated minds in the country” has a bigger ego than a brain.

Dave Sohigian
Guest

Jonathon,

This was a great synopsis of Potter’s position on bikes in Portland. I am new to the bike scene here in Portland; my family of four is now carfree and we are using bikes and public transport to get around from our Lair Hill home. I have recently been wondering about the local bike politics and posts like this help give me a sense of history around that topic. Thanks for your effort in putting this together!

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

J.J.

Oh so funny,

And oh so far from the truth..

And, when you finally get the irony of what might be called my “Hastily Penned Byline”,

The truth will set you free…..